After an exploration in the peat landscape of Waterland with ecologist Ed Buis led to a fascination for the bulrush. This appeared during a conversation about the contradictions we discovered on the landscape of Waterland in relation to the artificial low water levels in the polder. When the groundwater level is kept low it has advantages for the grasslands and grazing cattle. However, a lower groundwater level causes the peat to break down more quickly, resulting in subsidence and more CO2 emissions. The local residents often tell us that they live on thick water, referring to the soft and black watery peat bog on which they live. A landscape that, due to its current use, faces a limited shelf life. How long can this agricultural landscape sustain itself? When the water level is kept higher, the purpose and use of the grasslands changes. Plants that like wet marshy conditions, such as the bulrush, are promising species for the future of this landscape, according to Ed Buijs.
The bulrush is a water plant that you see a lot growing in ditches and water edges in Waterland. During our explorations with Ed Buijs, we learned about the unprecedented uses of bulrushes. Because of its enormous growing vigour, it quickly generates a lot of biomass. The long and thick stems feel spongy, they are in fact full of air pockets, and thus seems to be a kind of natural insulation material with possibilities for the construction industry. Water and nutrient rich landscapes are the home of the bulrush. Bulrush thrives best in or along sunny, nutrient-rich, slow-flowing, nitrogen-rich and calcareous water growing ia a soil that can consist of a variety of soil types. Together with other plants such as reed, bulrush is responsible for the land accretion process where water slowly becomes more and more land.
During spring and summer, large brown cigars grow on the stems of the bulrush. The leaves are flat, smooth and gray-green in color and the stems are oval. When you cut the stem you see an annular almost mosaic structure, these are all the air pockets in the stem of the plant.
Bulrush on the BBQ
The young stems, like fresh bamboo shoots, in the spring remain a favorite for us. When they grow out of the water along the ditch side they look a bit like a nice thick leek. You can very well prepare them whole by roasting the stems on the BBQ, oven or grill. You can lightly roast them and eat with good oil or you can let them turn completely black in the fire, after which you can peel them off like you do with a roasted onion. The flavor is then light, fresh and a little asparagus-like. You can also cut the stems into thin rings. Then you can eat them raw, but also very nice is to brine or pickle them in sweet/sour. The rings have a wonderfully beautiful pattern and taste fresh, light and cucumber-like.
* When you decide to harvest the bulrush, always be careful with contamination in the water and soil. To test always taste a small piece first. If it tastes like metals, it will sting your tongue and do not eat it!